Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice

Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice



Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice

Overview of the Article

            The article, The Ethics and Law of Confidentiality in Criminal Justice Research: A Comparison of Canada and the United States by Lowman and Palys, covers the issue of confidentiality in the field of criminal justice and the law system (Lowman & Palys, 2001). The article identifies with the case of Atlantic Sugar v. United Statesin 1980 that involved an antidumping case (Toupin, 1990). The authors argue that the system has experienced a challenge in ascertaining that the confidentiality and credibility of the system match up to the requirements of the law. The issue of ethical responsibility and lawful action is prone to increased scrutiny as different people desire to fulfill each. Notably, Lowman and Palys identify that the law plays a significant role in protecting the anonymity and credibility of researchers arguing on the potential impact that it may have to the rulings in court (Lowman & Palys, 2001). Researchers under the jurisdiction of the criminal system are likely to fulfill their ethical desires once they employ unique strategies of approach based on the requirements of the law.

            The article identifies the possibility of extended vulnerability to people carrying out research owing to the breach of ethical standards. Confidentiality as an ethical component plays a crucial role in protecting participants. Research ethics ensure that researchers are not harmed by the research they carry out. However, conflicts that arise in the course of performing certain tasks by the researcher tend to interfere with the scope of confidentiality. Often, researchers are obliged to report any potential and future crimes that may interfere with the role they play. Similarly, modern criminological procedures tend to differ with the traditional research methods considering the improvements made in criminal technology such as transfer of information. In this case, Lowman and Paly focus on criminal law in Canada and U.S sensitizing on the obligatory allowance and privacy certificates offered to research participants before testifying as a way of ascertaining confidentiality. Such factors have a direct impact on ethical issues in the field of criminal justice.

Critical Response

            Lowman and Paly cover important elements of criminal justice law based on the case of Atlantic Sugar v. United States in 1980 (Lowman & Palys, 2001). The question of whether confidentiality should be limited proves to be quite challenging considering that researchers are compelled to know the law that is relevant to their particular research. They are also required to make promises they are willing to maintain, and to be forthright with research participants about what they are promising. However, in most cases, researchers issue false or breakable promises to the witnesses involved arguing based on the requirement of the law. Breaching confidentiality based on contractual requirements implies that the researcher has violated the rights of the witness. By disclosing information that was identified as confidential, it is possible that the researchers infringe the conditions of the Wigmore criterion. Evidently, a lack of confidence eliminates the probability of privilege.

Future Prevention

            Preventing a breach in confidentiality takes the effort of the researcher to ensure that they focus on any future probability of breach. Decision-making and concise judgments based on the course of action should be the core aspect of consideration for the researchers. The ability to protect research participants as well as secure the limitations of confidentiality should be approached through a case-by-case analysis. As much as creating legislations that cover the credibility of the researchers, the criminal system should ensure that it revises its shield laws on the protection of research participants. Furthermore, privacy certificates should be comprehensive enough to cover any breaches that may interfere with the confidentiality of the participant.


Lowman, J., & Palys, T. (2001). The ethics and law of confidentiality in criminal justice research: A comparison of Canada and the United States. International Criminal Justice Review, 11(1), 1-33.

Toupin, J. A. (1990). The US Court of International Trade and the US International Trade Commission After Ten Years-A Personal View. Fordham Int’l LJ, 14, 10.

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